Hyundai Kona VS Suzuki Vitara
- Good interior space
- Reasonably priced
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Lack of advanced safety
I think it’s just human nature to like explosions.
There’s something fascinating and wonderous about how an internal combustion engine unites the chaos of exploding petrol with a few hundred moving parts to send a car hurtling forward.
So, I should hate the Hyundai Kona Electric. I should hate it for the simple fact that it is the almost undeniable future of motoring, and it has no engine.
But for so many reasons, I can’t hate it. I can’t hate it because for the first time since I first drove a Tesla Model S, the Kona Electric made feel like I’ve had to the opportunity to experience a little slice of the future before we’re really supposed to see it.
So, should we be ready for it? Is this Kona going to be a big part of the proliferation of electric cars in Australia? Importantly, is it a realistic cut-price long-range alternative to the wildly expensive Tesla range?
The answers lie in this review…
Suzuki's much-loved Vitara returned in 2015 and it was a happy day for people over a certain age. Over the years, Suzuki has tweaked and trimmed the range, ditching the diesel (much to the chagrin of towing fans) and leaving us with three Vitaras with the subtly updated 2019 model - the entry-level, the Turbo and the Turbo Allgrip.
The entry-level Vitara is a lot of car for the money but there is a small catch - instead of the excellent 1.4-litre turbo engine of the other two, it ships with a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine that has significantly less power than anything else in the segment.
That doesn't seem to bother the target market, though - the base Vitara is by far the biggest seller in the range.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
On price alone, the Kona Electric is not quite the Volkswagen Beetle or Ford Model T of the electric car world.
It does stand for something, though. It stands as an example that practical and reasonably range-anxiety-free electric vehicles are a realistic ownership proposition, and one which is achievable for automakers a little less volatile than Tesla.
Importantly, the Kona Electric ‘normalises’ the EV powertrain in that it feels so natural to drive, so much like its petrol equivalents that you don’t question it, and you spend far more time marvelling at the cool bits than you do getting frustrated with the compromises.
For now, the key to uptake of these vehicles will be in government incentives (right now there are next to none) and the proliferation of more up-to-date non-Tesla charging points.
What would it take for you to make the switch to electric? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
It's frustrating that the Vitara is a good car fitted with such a weak engine. It's got great interior space for less money than a Qashqai, a big boot and some nice touches.
The ledger for the base model Vitara is more balanced than the higher grades. While the turbo-engined machines get along very nicely, the ride and handling are great and all the Vitara's strengths are magnified, the entry-level struggles against similarly-priced competition.
The Vitara Turbo is the one to get if you can stretch to it. The Vitara isn't ruined by this engine, but it is compromised.
Is engine power a big deal for you? Or is the Vitara's lack of pace and refinement secondary to its undeniable charms? Let us know in the comments below.
Our loan car was fully tricked out with the ‘eco’ look. That includes the Kona Electric’s hero colour of ‘Ceramic Blue’, the two-tone white roof and the airy blue and grey interior trim.
Some will love this aesthetic, to me it was total eco-credential overkill. Regardless, the electric Kona carries most of the styling points which made the original car a bit of a hit.
In fact, in some ways I think the electric Kona improves on the base car by eliminating the overcomplicated grille.
Round the back is less revolutionary, featuring a re-designed lower bumper and a simple ‘electric’ badge to set it apart from the regular range.
Inside has the same symmetrical design which makes the regular Kona and i30 so appealing.
The electric car gets a raised up centre console which offers easy access to the little SUV’s many buttons and functions as well as giving the cabin a slightly more futuristic look.
The centre stack is nicely designed with the climate control functions leading up to a set of vents and the pride-of-place multimedia touchscreen jotting out of the dash. It’s a good look and easy to use for both the driver and front passenger.
Less good is the abundance of matte silver finish everywhere, there’s simply no need for it, anyone who gets behind the wheel will already realise this car is from the near future.
Unfortunately, the interior, as full-on as it looks, is comprised mostly of hard plastics. This is a consistent Kona problem - there’s even more hard surfaces present here than there is in its i30 hatchback sibling.
Not everyone is a fan of the new Vitara's looks, but I am. Most of the colours are fairly vivid and everyone seems to buy it in metallic green, so it was nice to have it in this grey/silver (optional) colour.
The chrome grille can be a little bit much, but I really like the purposeful, chunky profile. Wasn't sure about the new rear lights at first, but as I said in the Allgrip review, they had already grown on me.
The Vitara's interior isn't going to win any materials quality awards, but it seems like it will last a long time. There's nothing amazing about it apart from the fact it's roomy and everything looks and feels honest.
The Kona is already hardly the most practical small SUV out there, as the base car features a decent boot, but middling rear legroom.
The same is true here, only the boot floor has been raised to accommodate batteries. As a result, total boot space has been reduced 39L down to 332L (VDA).
That’s unfortunate, but despite the sacrifice, it's somehow not the smallest boot in the small SUV class (it still bests the Mazda CX-3, for example). The Highlander grade gets a really quite handy luggage net across the boot floor.
Underneath the boot floor, the on-board charging cable packs away neatly into a zipper bag alongside the puncture repair kit.
Rear legroom is a bit of an issue. If you’re any taller than me (182cm) you simply won’t fit and you’ll have your legs jammed up against the front seat.
On my test week I put three adults across the rear row and while they were too polite to complain, it didn’t look particularly comfortable, particularly for the middle occupant.
In terms of amenities the rear seats get small cupholders in the doors and nettings on the back of the seats, but no power outlets or air-conditioning vents.
Up front is a much better story, where the driver and front passenger benefit from deep cupholders in the centre console and doors, a neat little Qi wireless charging point, USB point and 'aux' input in the dash, as well as a huge storage area and 12-volt output underneath the raised centre stack. There’s also a decent console box.
Sure, the electric Kona can’t compete on practicality with something like the brilliantly-packaged Honda HR-V, but it isn’t as compromised as it could have been.
Passenger space in the Vitara is excellent for a compact SUV. Part of the reason back seat occupants do so well is because the roof is high, the doors aren't very thick and the seat is a long way off the floor, meaning the distance between the front and rear seats isn't made smaller by angled legs. It's comfortable, too.
Which is lucky because you won't have anywhere to put your drinks or phones or your inboard elbows, which is a shame.
Front seat passengers have somewhere to put their elbows and there are two cupholders. All four doors have a bottle holder.
The boot has a false floor under which you can hide a decent amount of stuff, including small bags. Its volume starts at a decent 375 litres (beaten only by Honda's HR-V and Nissan's Qashqai). Drop the rear seats and space increases to 1120 litres.
Price and features
Let’s get the major downside of the Kona Highander electric out of the way right off-the-bat, shall we?
This car costs a whopping $64,490 before on-roads. So, for what is essentially a budget-style small SUV you’ll be punished to the tune of almost $30 grand more than its petrol-powered Highlander equivalent.
In fact, as Richard Berry pointed out in his launch review, this is the most expensive car Hyundai sells in Australia. More than even the top-model seven-seat Santa Fe Highlander diesel, which will set you back a (suddenly cheap-sounding) $60,795.
On the upswing, it is much cheaper than any other electric car with an equivalent range on full charge. The cheapest current Telsa Model S, for example (now simply called the ‘Long Range’), comes in at an even more whopping $123,500.
Sadly, a slice of the future is still limited to those who are wealthy enough to afford it.
Our electric Highlander does come with decent kit to help mitigate the cost a little. Included is the full suite of standard features from the regular Kona, and then some.
There’s an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity, an eight speaker premium audio system, Qi wireless phone charging pad, full LED front lighting, front & rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and 17-inch ‘eco-design’ alloy wheels.
Unlike the Elite which sits below it, the Highlander is offered with a choice of either a two-tone roof or sunroof option at no extra cost. All Kona Electrics have leather-appointed interior trims as standard, but the Highlander adds power operated, heated & ventilated front seats.
There's also a head-up display standard on our Highlander, but with all the required information being displayed across the media system and dash cluster I hardly found it useful.
The Kona also has a substantial safety suite (explored in the safety section of this review).
Engine aside, there is much to like about the base model Vitara - in fact any Vitara - and this one is a pretty decent $24,990.
That lands you, all the way from (somewhat unexpectedly) Hungary, 17-inch alloys, climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, sat nav, leather steering wheel, cloth trim, power windows, four-speaker stereo and a space-saver spare.
That four-speaker stereo is run from the same touchscreen found in pretty much every Suzuki. The basic software is okay but the hardware itself is a bit iffy. Cleverly (and unlike Toyota), Suzuki knew an easy fix for that is to throw in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sorted.
Engine & trans
The Kona Electric drives the front wheels via an electric motor producing 150kW/395Nm.
It’s more powerful than any other Kona model, most other small SUVs and even most electric cars around this price.
It’s not as… ahem… ludicrous as a Tesla, with a claimed 7.6 second 0-100km/h time, but it really doesn’t need to be. It has plenty of power for what it is.
Electric motors don’t require a transmission in the traditional sense, and the Kona simply has a single-speed ‘reduction gear’.
The Kona feeds power back into its battery pack via regenerative braking, which has three levels controlled by paddle-shifters on the wheel. More on that in the driving and fuel consumption segments.
Sadly, the motor still juts into the regular engine bay, so there’s no extra storage up front. There’s also a standard battery to power auxiliary functions alongside the gigantic battery pack.
The 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the base Vitara wheezes up just 86kW and 156Nm, easily the least-powerful in its class, and by some margin.
I often joke that it's almost like there is legislation about how much power a compact SUV must have. The Vitara is proof there isn't. The $29,990 Turbo has 102kW/220Nm, for comparison.
As with the turbo cars, the 1.6 has a proper six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. You can also get a five-speed manual for $23,990. Luckily it weighs bugger-all at 1180kg.
The Vitara offers 1200kg towing for braked trailers and 400kg unbraked.
The Kona consumes precisely zero fuel, due to the whole ‘lack of an engine’ deal. Really, in the future, we’ll have to rename this segment to ‘energy consumption’.
To that end you’re probably used to measuring consumption in terms of litres per hundred kilometres (L/100km), but the new figure against which electric cars are measured is kilowatt hours per hundred kilometres (kWh/100km).
Over my week of testing the Kona produced 14.1kWh/100km. No context for that? Here, I’ll provide some. The Kona has a 64kWh battery pack, which Hyundai claims will give you a “real-world range” of 449km.
If you put the numbers together, it means at the rate I was using power I would have actually scored a greater range than Hyundai’s estimate at 453.9km.
That’s legitimately impressive, because the Nissan Leaf I had on test immediately afterwards couldn’t get below 15.3kWh/100km.
Weirdly, on both tests I found EVs aren’t more efficient on the freeway, producing the same or even better numbers in traffic.
Charging any electric car is a sticky topic. The Kona has a single port, a ‘Type 2’ (Mennekes) European-standard charging port. This is a three-phase standard port which can be charged at stations ‘up to 100kW’.
I couldn’t find a single 100kW charging port in Sydney, but there is a lone NRMA 50kW Mennekes connector in Olympic Park (which will charge from zero to 80 per cent in 75 min) or 22kW versions at ChargeFox stations (which require the ChargeFox app to use).
Unfortunately, you can’t make use of Tesla’s extensive fast charge network, nor can you make use of the ChargePoint network which has 6.6kW ‘J1772’ connectors.
Hyundai offers an optional 7.2kW wall-mounted home charger, which can fill the battery in nine hours and 35 min.
Faced with little option but to charge it from a humble wall socket in the CarsGuide garage (which had a max output of 2.2kW) the Kona informed me a max charge from 29 per cent battery would take 24 hours and 47 minutes…
The non-turbo Vitara clocks up an official combined cycle fuel consumption rating of 6.0L/100km, 0.1L/100km worse than the Turbo.
My week with the car saw an indicated 9.2L/100km which is almost a litre worse than the Turbo Allgrip I last tested, and a whole lot less fun.
The Kona Electric is great to drive because it's so natural, so much like a ‘normal’ car. It’s quite literally as though somebody cross-bred a Tesla with a regular Kona Highlander, and that’s a very good thing.
If you’ve never driven an electric car before (and let’s face it, few people have) there are some distinctly different characteristics you should know about. Firstly, the way you slow down is not usual.
Electric cars like to reclaim energy through regenerative braking, which feeds energy back into the battery as the wheels turn. This means instead of coasting, electric cars will actively slow down when you let your foot off the accelerator.
In the Kona, you can control three levels of this braking depending how how comfortable you are with it or turn it off entirely, which I would advise against as it saves a surprising amount of battery, especially in stop-start traffic.
You can also hold down the brake level paddle to bring the car to a full stop with just regeneration. Efficient. This will also prolong the life of your brake pads, a further cost saving over time.
The acceleration is smooth and swift, but not brutal like a Tesla, and you seldom need to hop on the brakes hard if you have the regen braking on, although if you do the pedal has an odd, disconnected, woody kind of feel.
The electric Kona feels heavy thanks to its big battery mounted below the floor. This gives it a weightiness through the corners, but also a solid amount of grip. I never really felt as though the Kona would understeer despite its front-wheel drive disposition.
The suspension, like all Hyundai products now, is well sorted and tuned locally in Australia. Due to the extra weight of the electric components, this Kona has a different tune from its petrol-powered equivalents.
It’s less springy, but still a little sporty, and by nature of the extra weight alone it feels super settled over bumps.
Obviously, the lack of an engine makes the Kona Electric quiet, but it does make a rather strange noise. It’s like a choral ringing noise that’s most evident during low speed acceleration and braking.
You may have heard similar noises from electric trains before. It is undeniably cool and futuristic though, and results in more than a few turned heads from nearby pedestrians.
As has been the case since the Vitara's re-emergence a few years ago, it's a good car to drive. Light steering, supple ride and good body control mean progress is smooth and, if you're going downhill, fun.
For a modern car, it's a featherweight, but without the bounciness of some other cars of this weight. It's also quite maneuverable and is unexpectedly slim, meaning you can thread it around easily and it's not a bother in car parks or tight city streets.
It's good on urban streets, too, because it soaks up bumps and lumps very well.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - the Vitara is a good car. But in this spec, it's a good car with a deeply ordinary engine.
It's noisy, which wouldn't matter except to get anything like decent movement, you have to rev it. If you use anything more than quarter throttle - and you really have to - the transmission kicks down to try and find the scraps of torque on offer. It might be light, but the torque figure just isn't enough to move the Vitara with any urgency.
The base Vitara is slow and noisy and from that perspective is no match for its similarly-priced competition. Compounded by a lack of refinement from both engine and transmission, it highlights what a good engine is the 1.4-litre turbo.
The Vitara is slow and noisy, and from that perspective is no match for its similarly-priced competition.
Both electric Kona variants come with Hyundai’s full suite of active safety items, including auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection (AEB – works up to 65km/h for pedestrians or 80km/h for vehicles), forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring (BSM), driver attention alert (DAA), lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), high beam assist, rear cross traffic alert and active cruise control.
That’s an impressive suite of features, placing the Kona among the best equipped in the small SUV segment.
Regular safety refinements include six airbags, the expected electronic stability and brake controls as well as two ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
All Konas including the electric variants carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of December 2017.
The Kona Electric is covered by Hyundai’s competitive five-year unlimited kilometre warranty offering, sitting on-par with most competitors.
It came as a surprise to find Hyundai actually guarantees the battery for longer than the car itself, with an eight-year/160,000km warranty.
The lack of moving parts in the Kona Electric’s drivetrain means (theoretically) less to service and less to go wrong. As such, Hyundai has capped electric Kona servicing at $165 per 12-monthly 15,000km visit for the length of the warranty.
Services have capped prices beyond that with Hyundai’s 'iCare' packages, although we're waiting for confirmation on pricing.
Whether any long-term issues will show up with electric drivetrains is yet to be seen.
Suzuki offers a three year/100,000km warranty, but there's a small catch. If you continue to service it at Suzuki dealer every six months/10,000km, you're extended to five years/100,000km. That seems like a decent deal.
Somehow, the 1.6 costs more to service than the more complex 1.4-litre turbo, working out at an average $516 per year over the first 60 months.